Smart phones, ipads and other modern devices are stealing our children's oxytocin? Reclaim the art of conversation.

September 04, 2013

Do you feel lonely when you’re not checking your texts? Are you obsessive in your desire to check Facebook updates? How about your children? Can they not put their smart phone down long enough to look you in the eyes when you are talking to them? Nicholas Carr who writes about technology and culture says, “There is a scientific reason why these devices are our favorite vices. People have a primitive instinct to gather information. To know everything about the world. Where it becomes a problem is when we can’t see what is right in front of our face. What this pursuit of unlimited information is doing is putting us at risk of sacrificing sincere interfacing with people around us. No interfacing, no oxytocin. The compulsive checking with shadow people (check: electronic friends) in our lives, people that we almost exclusively communicate via text serves as a huge end run around our oxytocin system. And not just oxytocin. Ever hear about pheromones, testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, and brain endorphins? Researchers believe that all of this electronic communication is altering our brains and our bodies. Then of course there is our physical safety. Everywhere in public people are walking around looking down at the glow of their phones, not watching where they are going, let alone into the eyes of others in their environs. It’s dangerous. Pedestrians are being videoed walking into fountains, off railway terminals onto railroad tracks, into cars . . . it would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.

Distractions that usurp our ability to visually engage with others has a negative impact on our oxytocin release. People originally said this about TV. The main difference between TV and texting is that people don’t carry televisions around in their pockets. TV is relegated to a certain time period in the day. Such as after work. Maybe in the morning as we get ready for the day. Smart phones with YouTube and texting in particular have brought the oxytocin distraction level to a whole new level. Kids can grow up now texting critiques of “Rocko’s Modern Life” reruns they just watched on their smart phones from behind texts. Not only are smart phones imposing themselves on our kids ability to visually connect with others in a real, human way they are becoming irrevocably compulsive.

Advice? Occasionally, as in once per day, put the cell phones down. If you are one of the lucky few with the sense to participate in that quaint ritual called “Dinner Hour” then use it as an opportunity to turn all of the smart phones off. Stop crowding out the quieter, calmer moments when you might engage in reflection or introspection and just plain old oxytocin releasing conversation. That’s right. Shut it off. Just for an hour. Ok, try thirty minutes. But, in that thirty minutes honestly look your friends; kids, dinner guests, colleagues, in the eye and carry on a real conversation. Talk to them. If they pick up their phone ask them not to. Ask them to stop, put it down for a few minutes and just be present. I’ve done it. It works. The whole tenor of the experience changes. Always for the better. I am not saying, “Don’t use your phone, throw away your phone. I’m just asking your to try to reclaim the art of conversation.